Legislative Roundup, Week 18

Big Victories; More Battles

The power of persistent advocacy was on display last week after a series of victories for CSN members. However, no rest is in store. More battles are up this week.

Today’s agenda includes a veto-override attempt on LB75 (Wayne), a bill to eliminate the two-year waiting period for felons to have their voting rights restored upon completion of their sentence. Governor Ricketts previously vetoed this bill to restore voting rights to ex-felons. Nebraskans for Civic Reform has worked for passage of LB75.

Also back on the agenda is LB335 (Riepe), which institutes a freeze on child care subsidies. The bill previously advanced to Select File, which is the second round of debate before Final Reading. Several Coalition members, including the Holland Children’s Movement, would like to see this bill killed. Lowering the rate of subsidies also lowers access to affordable child care.

Also scheduled this week will be Final Reading on the budget bills. In addition, LB651 (Linehan) will make its way onto the agenda after the Nebraska Legislature voted last week to pull the bill out of committee. This bill, which would require that a student be held back in third grade if they do not pass reading proficiency standards, had been held up in committee. Education groups, including Stand for Schools and the Nebraska State Education Association oppose the bill because studies show holding kids back does more harm than good.

Click here for a link to the NET live stream of floor debate.

Victory on Taxes

Early last week, the Nebraska Legislature defeated LB461 (Smith), a package of income and property tax cuts proposed by the Governor that would have cost the state $458 million a year when fully implemented. Don Walton highlighted the scene in the Capitol Rotunda in his weekly Lincoln Journal Star column:

“You could see it was all over by just stepping out into the Rotunda. When big legislative bills are headed toward a showdown vote and the outcome remains in doubt, there is frenzy out there. But as the big package of income and property tax reductions moved within an hour of a decisive vote that could trap the proposal for the remainder of this year’s legislative session, it was quiet and scarcely-populated outside the doors to the chamber. The visual message was clear: Game over.”

The Omaha World Herald has additional coverage on LB461’s defeat. The Open-Sky Policy Institute worked hard to make people aware of the potential impacts of LB461. The Governor says he will continue to pursue tax cuts.

Victories for Women’s and Children’s Health

In dramatic fashion, with no votes to spare, the Nebraska Legislature restored funding Wednesday for family planning clinics, including Planned Parenthood. A measure was snuck into LB327 (Scheer), that would have restructured Title X family planning grants to keep funding away from these clinics. ACLU of Nebraska, Women’s Fund of Omaha, and Planned Parenthood of the Heartland worked hard to get this provision out of the budget. The Central Health Center in Grand Island, People’s Family Health in North Platte, Planned Parenthood in Lincoln and Omaha and Family Health Services in Tecumseh, Lincoln and Crete would all have lost Title X funding, impacting more than 14,000 patients. The initial vote to pass the amendment to restore funding failed, but a motion was made to reconsider, whereby Senator Groene, who has one of the clinics in his district, changed his vote. As the Omaha World Herald notes:

“The tide turned after Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte said he wanted to leave abortion politics out of the budget and to focus on government spending and taxes instead.”

Also last week, the Nebraska Legislature passed LB427 (Vargas) on Final Reading. LB427 extends breastfeeding protections to a mother attending a public, private, denominational or parochial school and requires the school to provide a private or appropriate facility of accommodation for milk expression and storage. LB428 (Vargas) was amended onto LB427, which requires each school district to adopt a written policy which provides for standards and guidelines to accommodate pregnant and parenting students. This was a recommendation of the Intergenerational Poverty Task Force, which included many CSN members and was supported by CSN through facilitation assistance. The bills are designed to help parenting and pregnant students finish school.

Victory on Human Trafficking

Legislators also gave second-round approval last week to LB289 (Pansing Brooks), which increases penalties on human traffickers. Several other bills were amended onto LB289 to protect victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, including LB178 (Bolz), which authorizes protection orders for victims of sexual assault, mirroring existing protections for victims of domestic violence. LB191 (Pansing Brooks) was also amended on to LB289. This bill establishes a process for individuals to refile for protection orders in order to eliminate gaps in protection. The Women’s Fund of Omaha was the leading advocacy organization for LB289.

Victory for Kids

Last week, Senator Groene failed to get the required votes to LB595 (Groene) on General File and the measure’s prospects appear doubtful. The proposal would have let teachers use physical force or restraint to subvert violent students. Voices for Children fought against this bill.

American Health Care Act

Nebraska Appleseed, Voices for Children and others are watching the federal level closely after the United States House of Representatives voted to advance a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare with the “Affordable Health Care Act.” The bill has a lot of concerning provisions, including making coverage of preexisting conditions, including things like maternity care, optional for states. Also of concern in the bill is that Medicaid would turn into a block grant and the states would either have to pick up the cost or eliminate coverage for kids, low-income seniors and persons with disabilities.  If the Senate follows the House and passes the American Health Care Act, the ramifications would be huge for those individuals and families for whom CSN members advocate.

Interim Studies

Wednesday is the deadline for senators to introduce interim studies, which often serve as catalysts for future legislation, providing an avenue for hearings and information gathering. For those interested in these studies, this page will be updated as interim studies continue to be introduced early this week.

 “Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson  

The Capitol Fly on the Wall

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